Linux Foundation Debuts DENT


By: Mary Jander

The Linux Foundation has announced the first release of code for DENT, an open-source network operating system (NOS) project started over a year ago. Dubbed Arthur, the code release is the first crack at an open-source NOS specifically created for a particular edge population -- the small distributed enterprise site.

“The DENT community has grown quickly and executed on this first major code release at a time when the entire industry is rethinking the future of retail and campus environments,” said Arpit Joshipura, general manager of networking at the Linux Foundation, in a prepared statement.

As the new open-source NOS on the market, DENT is likely to be compared with SONiC, but the two open-source NOSes appear to be positioned for different markets. SONiC is more targeted at data-center installations, while DENT is aimed at bringing small, low-cost solutions to systems integrators and OEMs that serve markets such as the small retail industry or remote branch warehousing segment.

To support this goal, DENT’s Arthur release eschews any complex abstraction layer that could slow up a smaller switch such as that used in a grocery store. Instead, it has been designed to use the Linux 5.6 Kernel and its SwitchDev (Ethernet switch device driver model) to disaggregate the control and data planes and treat underlying silicon as what Joshipura terms “just another hardware” item in the network.

DENT Is Aimed at the Channel

When DENT was first announced in December 2019, it was clear the project would be aimed at systems integrators, OEMs, and component suppliers that specialize in dealing with small, wireless devices for 4G and emerging 5G applications, particularly at small, remote sites.

Early members in the DENT project included Amazon (AMZ), Cumulus Networks and Mellanox (now both part of NVIDIA — NVDA), Delta Electronics and Wistron NeWeb of Taiwan, as well as Marvell Technology Group (MRVL).

These companies have since been joined by Innovium, Arcadyan, and Alpha Networks — all of which have a stake in selling wireless components through a range of channels, including equipment suppliers, integrators, and OEMs.

Interestingly, Amazon’s involvement appears to be not from its cloud company, AWS, but from the parent, which governs warehousing and storefront management — another indication that DENT is aimed at the market for small, remote sites that can’t afford the more complex data center switching NOSs or micro data center solutions.

An open-source solution like Arthur can save this segment licensing fees, while ensuring that OEMs can extend customizable options at volume to small businesses and remote sites.

Potential Yet to Come

On the downside, Arthur remains a platform that will need development by Linux experts, particularly in the areas of security and management, where potential openings are available in the code but no solid solutions appear to have been planned.

Further, there are questions about the retail market. With many retail storefronts closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the brick-and-mortar retail vertical may be slower to develop than originally forecast by DENT developers. Still, Amazon’s participation indicates there’s room in logistics and warehousing to serve burgeoning online demand. And pop-up storefronts have gained popularity in lieu of traditional retail facilities.

And as 5G services proliferate, they will open the way to a range of opportunities in the Internet of Things (IoT), Industrial Iot (IIoT), and other areas demanding high-speed monitoring and control for applications such as light manufacturing. The possibilities for DENT’s Arthur will be intriguing to follow.